Rev. Tess Baumberger: The ways of truth and affection

Rev. Tess Baumberger

Each Sunday at Unity Church we recite this unison affirmation, “We pledge to walk together in the ways of truth and affection, as best we know them now or may learn them in days to come, that we and our children may be fulfilled, and that we may speak to the world in words and actions of peace and goodwill.”

Currently I am in the midst of a series of sermons on “holy manners,” about how we pledge to walk together, by exploring each phrase of this unison affirmation. This week the focus is that very Unitarian Universalist phrase “as best we know them know or may learn them in days to come.”

This phrase is very “us” because our tradition has been and remains very open to new religious insights. This openness led some 19th-century Unitarians and Universalists to read Hindu and Buddhist scriptures as they were being translated into English. There they found profound religious truths, and thus the “canon” or list of authoritative religious texts in our religion began to expand beyond the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

We consider religious revelation to be ongoing. This is why when we speak of the “ways of truth and affection” we add that proviso – “as best we know them now or may learn them in days to come.” You may wonder what holds us together when our members do not share a common object of belief, or even draw wisdom from the same scriptures as one another.

I believe three important ideas form the core that holds us together as congregations and as a movement — seeking, truth, and love. As Unitarian Universalists, we share in a process of seeking spiritual and religious truth, even though this process may take us in different directions theologically. Have you ever shared a journey that challenges you? Then you know how strong a bond you can form with your brother and sister travelers.

Unitarian Universalists have sometimes been called heretics. The root of the word “heretic” simple means “to choose.” To me, our identity as heretical (choosing) seekers also affirms our value of openness. Seeking implies finding, but because we continue to identify as choosing seekers, we recognize that we may continue to uncover, discover new truths.

Ours is an evolving faith, which transforms us even as we transform it. As we encounter others who are exploring different paths, as we listen to their stories, as we come to understand their beliefs, we gain new insights that serve to open us, to transform us, and to lead us onward.

The funny thing about valuing individual conscience like we do is that, well done, it also leads to openness. As we exercise our own right to believe as makes sense to us, we become increasingly centered and confident in our own truths. As we become more centered and confident in our own truths, we become better able to hear the truths of others.

Being able to entertain an array of different religious perspectives allows us to develop complex and sensitive ways of seeing matters of faith. Appreciating different perspectives develops our religious reasoning skills, so that we mature as religious people. As we share our ways of truth, an interesting thing happens. As we recognize, appreciate and celebrate the ways in which we are both similar and different, the bonds of love grow between us, and this is the last important integrating force in our religion.

This heart dimension of our faith calls us to explore a different metaphor of faith, in addition to the journey. One of our ministers pointed out that the limitation of the journey metaphor is that we never arrive. The heart dimension of our faith calls us home. It calls us to sit together in worship, in small groups, in committee meetings, and at our sacred coffee hour (which I joke is a sacrament of our faith). Seeking the truth in love calls us home to share with one another what we’re learning along the way.

Walking together in the ways of truth and affection means listening in order to understand one another. It means embracing and loving our differences as well as our similarities, and it can be very challenging to love someone who sees the world very differently than you. Ours is not an easy faith, but sharing the ways of truth with affection can be a joyous, moving, growing experience.

We are faithful, fearless, choosing seekers, and Unity Church is our loving home. Any covenant of right relations we develop will reflect our values of openness, celebrate our diversity, call us out to seek for truth, and above all, call us home to embrace all this diversity in loving ways. To do all of this is to live our deepest values. So may it be.

The Rev. Tess Baumberger, PhD, is minister at Unity Church of North Easton, Mass. For more information and links to this and other Unitarian Universalist churches, please visit She can be reached at